by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
In recent months, gun violence and muggings have become a passionate issue in Seattle and beyond. This time of worry comes in the wake of 2012, a year marked with a large number of mass shootings that received wide attention from news outlets. Especially shocking events like the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. have inspired an ongoing debate about gun control laws. Seattle itself came to this unfortunate limelight with the shooting at Cafe Racer and later at the parking lot of Town Hall on May 30, 2012.
Under consideration of these violent acts, the City of Seattle has partnered with the Seattle Police Department to create the Gun Safety Initiative and seek the use of surveillance drones in police work. But the question remains: Has Seattle seen an actual rise in gun violence and muggings in the past year, or has public awareness of this violence risen to address the status quo?
As of the writing of this article, the Seattle Police Department has only released crime statistics for 2012 through the month of November. Though the citywide statistics show an overall increase of violent crime by four percent, that number comes from two, heavily weighted factors. The first is a major increase in the number of rapes that occurred in 2012 compared to 2011. As of November, 2012 saw 115 cases of rape, which is a 20 percent increase. Disturbing as this trend is, it does not directly relate to gun violence or muggings.
2012 also experienced 26 homicides, a 63 percent jump from 2011. Five of those murders are those that occurred on May 30, accounting for a larger number of killings than occurred in the six months that followed.
Today in the East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department, citizens are becoming increasingly vocal about gun violence and street robberies. Through the Safe Communities outreach program, a wide cross-section of people from Capitol Hill and the Central District has placed gun control on high priority in their neighborhoods. Of ten working groups, seven have listed guns as a major concern, especially as they relate to street robberies.
But according to month-by-month crime data provided by the East Precinct, guns do not feature very prominently in muggings. While more common than knives or other weapons, firearms are far less likely to be used in a mugging than “strong-arm” force (unarmed use of hands, feet, etc.). Strong-arm muggings are three times more common than gunpoint robberies in Capitol Hill. October and November of 2012 saw a slight increase in the number of gunpoint robberies, jumping from an average of two to three per month to six and nine, respectively, but not an overall increase in the number of muggings in general.
It is also important to note that the State of Washington has a broad definition for the term “firearm.” In a recent assault, a man wielding a pellet gun mugged a woman on Mercer Street near 21st Avenue. Under Washington law, a non-lethal pellet gun is considered a firearm.
Statistically, the East Precinct has not seen a rise in muggings in recent months. Across the year, the number of street robberies stays relatively consistent, typically occurring between 20 and 25 times per month, with occasional dips and spikes. Those numbers are reflected in similar patterns throughout different beats within the precinct. No neighborhood within the East Precinct sees a significantly higher number of muggings over the course of a given month, though all sectors tend to experience rashes of similar robberies in a given period.
For example, in late November and early December several strong-arm muggings described as employing highly similar tactics occurred around Seattle University, and as many as three robberies on or around Summit Avenue were reported in December, indicating a pair of muggers working together. Each of these robberies were purely strong-arm muggings, with the exception of the most recent event around Seattle University in which the mugger implied his possession of a gun without actually wielding one.
Many of these recent muggings remain unsolved. The Seattle Police Department maintains a non-emergency number for reporting at 206-625-5011 and an anonymous reporting line at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).